The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has noted the plans to build 6 to 8 nuclear power stations. Reports indicate that the introduction of this technology will cost between 400 billion and 1 trillion rand to build. This large sum of money required for financing nuclear energy will come from the taxpayer.
COSATU wishes to reiterate the following concerns raised by its affiliate – the National Union of Mine Workers (NUM) on the abrupt introduction of nuclear energy.
The first is related to the exorbitant costs associated with the generation of nuclear energy. Countless reports have proven that nuclear is two to four times more expensive than electricity generated from fossil fuels. It should be noted that these figures do not take into account the finance required for waste management and decommissioning. This is major concern because the Ministry of Finance has indicated that the government is facing dire fiscal constraints. The introduction of this technology will exacerbate this challenge and place more financial pressure on the taxpayer.
Secondly, international experience and research reports have illustrated that the process of generating nuclear energy is capital intensive. This is a major concern because South Africa is confronted with an unemployment crisis. Stats SA’s recent report indicates that 25% of South Africans are unemployed. This is the narrow definition which excludes discouraged job seekers.
COSATU has pointed out that the unemployment figure amounts to 8 million workers if we include discouraged job seekers. In our view, the introduction of nuclear energy will have minimal effects on addressing the unemployment crisis. More worryingly, skills experts have pointed out that SA will have to import labour to meet the skills demands of nuclear energy generation. Our country does not have the skills or expertise for nuclear.
Thirdly, nuclear energy will create a number of health and environmental risks for the working class. Nuclear waste remains radioactive for a number of years, and most nations have struggled to create safe methods for storing this waste. Past experiences have proven that these health and environmental hazards mainly affect the working class.
Reports have highlighted how workers and community members from the Pelindaba complex suffered from illnesses caused by radiation and chemicals. These are not isolated incidents; there are a number of nuclear health risk cases handled by the Legal Resource Centre and other institutions.
Fourthly, we are also concerned that that nuclear will increase Green House Gas emissions in the country. South Africa is 12th largest emitter of GHGs in the world and the biggest polluter in Africa. The country’s share of global emissions is 1.5%, and it produces half of the emissions on the African continent. Nuclear energy will increase these emissions. According to Earthlife, “the fuel cycle of mining uranium releases 2-4 times more carbon dioxide per unit of energy than renewable energy”.
This evidence proves that the introduction of nuclear energy will have negative socio-economic effects in the country. In our view, government should prioritize energy technologies that are less expensive and more conducive for sustainable development. An example would be the expansion of investment in renewable energy which safer, cheaper and more conducive for low-skill job creation. We hope that government will take these into consideration before commencing the proposed bidding window.
Khwezi Mabasa (Social Development Policy Co-ordinator)
Congress of South African Trade Unions
110 Jorissen Cnr Simmonds Street